C o m m e n t a month of fruitless searches

On Thursday, it will be one month since the UN weapons inspectors began working in Iraq. Over this period, they have inspected over 150 facilities, and found no traces of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Mind that the first examined facilities were those 14 enterprises mentioned in Tony Blair's Declaration and the CIA report as having relation to the WMD production.

The inspections were intensifying throughout the month: two facilities checked on the first day were followed by up to 15 facilities on the next days. Many Iraqi enterprises were inspected more than once for several days in a row. UNMOVIC and IAEA representatives visited factories producing missiles and rocket propellants, enterprises linked with Iraq's former nuclear programme, chemical plants, plants producing medicines and animal vaccines, universities and libraries, warehouses and dumps. They took samples of soil, water and air, and examined the area with gamma rays. They met Iraqi officials and scientists. Inspections which began in Baghdad and on its outskirts extended in a month towards Mosul in the north and Basra in the south. Inspectors examined enterprises situated near the western and eastern borders of Iraq.

Iraq is making no secret of the fact that it had agreed with the UN Security Council's Resolution 1441 and allowed UN weapons inspectors back into the country only for fear of a US-led military assault. "Who enjoys being searched at an airport before boarding the plane?" asks the Iraqi president's adviser Amer Saadi. "But you understand that it is for your sake as well, and agree to it." Baghdad has agreed, but it worries that the US may press UN inspectors into giving it an excuse for attacking Iraq. But so far, the Iraqis seem to be content with their work. Baghdad has remarked that UNMOVIC and IAEA inspectors are fulfilling their mission professionally despite the US pressure. And the Iraqis say that is enough. If things stand as they are now, the Iraqis argue, the world will see how "false the US and British accusations are." One of the most irritable provisions of the UN Security Council's Resolution 1441 for Iraq is the right of the UN weapons inspectors to "immediate, unimpeded, unrestricted, and private access to all officials" and other figures who they wish to interview. "UNMOVIC and the IAEA may at their discretion conduct interviews inside or outside of Iraq, may facilitate the travel of those interviewed and family members outside of Iraq." But the main question as to whether the inspectors will take their interviewees outside of Iraq remains. Although, the majority of such interviews will be conducted inside the country, experts believe, because nobody is empowered to take a person outside the country without his/her consent.

So how can the past month of resumed UN inspections in Iraq be summed up? Most importantly, Baghdad is obviously striving to do everything possible to avoid war and to prevent inspectors' work from becoming an excuse for an aggression against Iraq. Indeed, inspectors have so far voiced no complaints with regard to Baghdad. All their demands are met and doors opened, even the door to the presidential palace. The Iraqis even agreed to the fact that UN inspectors will be accompanied by CIA representatives claiming that Iraqi enterprises are involved in the production of WMD.

The US, in turn, is persevering with its accusations against Iraq and claims to have evidence to the effect. However, regardless of UNMOVIC chief Hans Blix's request, Washington has not shared its alleged intelligence information with UN inspectors. Instead, the US administration has stated that UN inspectors are not supposed to search the whole Iraq for WMD. Conversely, it is Baghdad which is to prove that it has no banned weapons.

Baghdad only shrugs its shoulders in reply. The Iraqis ask: why should the accused prove his innocence, and not the accuser confirm the truth of its accusations? How on earth can you prove that you do not have something? Iraq testified in its resolution to the UN that it has no WMD. Washington refused to trust it. The only hope is that the "honest and professional" work of the UN weapons inspectors, as the Iraqis put it, will help break this vicious circle with no bloodshed.

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